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Tandem Cycling A bicycle built for two. Want to find out more about this wonderful world of tandems? Check out this forum to talk with other tandem enthusiasts. Captains and stokers welcome!

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Old 09-21-09, 10:58 AM   #1
DCwom
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the hazards of riding a tandem at large organized rides

As suggested by Tandem Geek in another thread on bent rotors from a large organized ride.

I'm curious how many tandem teams (here) ride the large rides? We took our tandem out for its first big group ride last week in Bike Philly and we saw at least 3 other tandems. I had no issue maneuvering in the pack, although Bike Philly isn't so big (compared to Bike New York's 5 boro ride).
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Old 09-21-09, 11:31 AM   #2
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Not on an organized ride yet, but riding in the park paths sometimes I get the sensation of what piloting a B-17 amongst swarms of single-seat fighters must have been like.

Most stay a respectfully distance away. I suppose that would not be the case in a very crowded field at an organized event, especially at the start with everyone jockeying for position...

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Old 09-21-09, 11:46 AM   #3
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We've done 3 or 4 MS150s (300-400 riders) and some organized centuries in the 200-300 rider range. The most aggravating time is a bunch start. We try to position ourselves at the front of a ride start and let riders pass us. If we can't be at the front we wait for the herd to leave since early in a ride tends to be squirrelville and the chances of bumping into each other greatly increase. After the first 10 or 15 miles of a ride the riders are usually sorted out and the most of the drama is gone.

I say most because there always seems to be some idiot who works really hard to get in front of us just before a DOWNHILL section. These individuals have obviously missed the physics lesson concerning his 150 pound mass versus our 400+.
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Old 09-21-09, 11:59 AM   #4
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STP & NWTR in July

My team rode the Seattle to Portland (10,000 riders), and the Northwest Tandem Rally (250+ tandem teams) last July. I can’t say that I experienced any real concerns during either of these rides. There was one place on the STP that was a little spooky, but it wouldn’t have made any difference if I were riding a single or tandem; this was riding down a bike path. I kept thinking what would happen if someone was trying to ride the opposite direction on a bike path with 10,000 cyclist going the other way!
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Old 09-21-09, 12:27 PM   #5
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In South Africa we have the Cape Argus Cycle Tour on the second weekend of March every year. It is the biggest one day timed cycle race in the world. Entries close once they reach 35 000 cyclists, but normally "only" 27 000 to 30 000 cyclists start. Cyclists start in bunches and are seeded according to times recorded in previous races.There are two racing tandem bunches that start and then tandems are seeded with half bikes untill they reach the last of the seeded bunches. The last seeded bunch are a large tandem field of 350 tandems plus. The route is absolutely scenic and encircles the Cape of Good Hope peninsusla. The race starts and ends in Cape town.

We have completed eight Cape Argus races. We have encountered from extremely hot conditions to wet conditions and last year we had the "Cape of Storms" windy ARGUS!!!!!! Wind speeds of up to 110km/hour was measured and it was the single most difficult race I have ever done.

In these races and othe large number races we have in South Africa I see me and EM my stoker as full bikes competeing against a whole horde of half bikes. It takes quite a lot of concentration in the large bunches and you are always greeted by ...... "now for some easy riding, here is a tandem to slipstream", sometimes it is an irritation but mostly ends in a bunch sprint where you beat the half bikes. Other than a WHOLE LOT of concentration, the normal bunch riding rules apply...... do not overlap wheels and do not look behind you. Ensure your bike is roadworthy and has good brakes.
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Old 09-21-09, 12:38 PM   #6
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+1.

The tandem is fine to ride with other tandems or with single bikes that understand that you accelerate like a motorbike as soon as the road points downhill, and that overlapping the rear half of the tandem is a bad idea as the captain can't see how close you are - a bit like riding alongside an articulated lorry. Many people don't understand this and under / over take to chat to the stoker.

I have been on club rides in a tight bunch, which can be frustrating as you end up having to ride on the brakes through dips in the road rather than sailing through on momentum. As stated above you need good brakes for this as singles tend to forget that our tandem at least does not stop all that quickly.
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Old 09-21-09, 12:41 PM   #7
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We've been riding 9 months and did the Hottern Hell in Wichita Falls with 14,000 of my friends a few weeks ago. We started with the third group of riders (6-8 hour expected time).

We started on the far right hand side, asking the waiting riders if we could move there and no one had a problem.

The most difficult part was getting started. For about two blocks the captain was hopping along on one leg and periodically saying "three oclock" so the stoker could pull the pedal back up for me to push down to the bottom as we moved along. That was a little tiring and was the worst part.

We stay to the right (for the most part) and try to keep our distance from riders ahead of us. We also give plenty of signals before moving right or left.

Even on small dips and hills you need to be sure you have a path through the mass or be prepared to ride the brakes because of how fast the tandem will accelerate. And no one likes to ride the brakes because you want that momentum for the uphill.

That was our fourth mass ride since we got the tandem.
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Old 09-21-09, 12:43 PM   #8
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What's this? Tandems, especially on a flat course, are supposed to be fast. All that aerodynamic efficiency and whatnot. Be the ride ever so large, you start out early and at the front and the only half-bikes you'll need contend with are the string of wheel-suckers that collect behind you, before they get ignominiously dropped. If any do manage to keep up, the riders are probably at least Cat 3's, and so no worries about them being squirrely. You blow by the rest stops while they are still setting up, and when you make it back to the Start/End no one rings cow bells and shouts out Woo hoo! Great job! because they can't believe anyone has already finished.
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Old 09-21-09, 12:58 PM   #9
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I'm curious how many tandem teams (here) ride the large rides? We took our tandem out for its first big group ride last week in Bike Philly and we saw at least 3 other tandems. I had no issue maneuvering in the pack, although Bike Philly isn't so big (compared to Bike New York's 5 boro ride).
We do, although there is no ride in our area to compare to the 10,000+ rider events. Most are of the 200 to 2000 variety.

There are two schools of thought on staying safe on these rides. If you're a fast team, start at the front and stay there for at least half the distance. The hotdogs who ride with more testosterone than sense will have had time to crash out of the ride by then, so you can drift back to a slower group if you want!

Conversely, if you're older or a tad slower than you used to be, (like us!), start last and work your way up. The slower recreational riders don't know about drafting, so they string out quickly and you're mostly passing singles or groups of two or three. You'll usually catch up to a small group of reasonable riders in the first 30 miles or so that's just barely going slower than you. With your help pulling, you can form a small, safe group with a reasonable speed with which to ride all the way to the finish.
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Old 09-21-09, 01:49 PM   #10
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The biggest group we have been in was a club ride of about 20 people. We were able to pace at about 20+ no problem, but then my son's knee acted up and we had to limp home. We were about 17 miles out.
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Old 09-21-09, 02:05 PM   #11
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Just did our local century a couple of weeks ago. 2000 registered. It was not a mass start, but everyone seems to go at a similar time. Ran into much traffic. Had a few people blocking the whole road, and not having the acceleration as I do on my single, we had to pick and choose when to go. No one wanted to work together either. They were all happy to jump on our wheel on the flat runs, but then didn't want to let us draft and catch a break. Very frustrating. There were a few tandems on the ride this year, and we ended up hooking up with one team for the last half of the ride. 2 of the other teams were just way to fast for us. Ran into a lot of traffic again this week at the start of the local club ride. Just some real ignorant riders blocking the whole road, and/or never checking their mirrors to see who was around them. We call out when we are overtaking, but some just don't care.
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Old 09-21-09, 02:55 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Geocyclist View Post
My team rode the Seattle to Portland (10,000 riders). There was one place on the STP that was a little spooky, but it wouldn’t have made any difference if I were riding a single or tandem; this was riding down a bike path. I kept thinking what would happen if someone was trying to ride the opposite direction on a bike path with 10,000 cyclist going the other way!
We rode STP with 9,999 of our friends also. My biggest issue was with pacelines passing us on the left - each rider would cut in closer and closer to our front wheel as they came around us; it felt like I was being pushed off of the road. Short 3- or 4-bike pacelines were OK, but some of these were 15 to 20 bikes long. (BTW: How do you handle this situation without risking a crash?) I had no issues with the bike path at all; it was great.
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Old 09-21-09, 02:56 PM   #13
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Omething else to remember...... I mentioned above that concentration forms a great part of riding in a bunch of half bikes. That is true for the stoker as well. We were in a 100km fairly flat race in South Africa and were in a bunch with almost 200 to 300 half bikes siiting in the back quarter of the peleton. In a dip after a fairly fast descent we crossed a bridge. Somebody in the bunch dropped a waterbottle or something and there was chaos. Bikes everywhere and I jammed full on the brakes. EM my wife and stoker was busy adjusting the water pipe of her Camelback and lost her balance and the next moment she was sitting on my back. How we did not fall that day I will never know. We completed the race that day doing a sub three hour on the 100km. Needless to say I have a totally dedicated and CONCENTRATING stoker now.
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Old 09-21-09, 02:57 PM   #14
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We do organized rides all the time with our Tandem and have done so for many years. Traveling to distant new areas to ride is one of our big joys of Tandem riding. Right now is prime season for many popular rides(we did 5 out of the last six weekends and we are scheduled for 4 more in the next six weekends). We ride either a Century or the Metric and usually with event entries ranging from 200 to 1500+ in size.

Safety is a constant focus when riding on new roads and in organized rides. We always avoid mass starts and generally leave a little early or a little late. I will not ride our Tandem IN any packs, particularly early in a ride when adenaline and excitement are understandably running unchecked by the masses. Pack riding requires trust and confidence in those aroud you which is impossible to establish early on in an unknown group..so I will not risk us.
Once things thin out, I pick carefully who I will run with, if at all. While I don't race bikes (just TT's and Tri's back in the day) I have spent a lifetime in motorsports and can usually recognize high risk - unpredictable people and situations and will back a way from them in a heart beat. Usually things settle down in a few miles and all is good and we get to really enjoy most rides. Generally we run 80% or more of our ride away from packs of other riders.
I place high value on a clear "line of vision" and "escape opportunities" when riding our Tandem particulaly in unpredictable situations....anytime safe margins start to deterioate for either, I reposition us to bring those margins back into balance with my personal reation times as quick as possible.
I highly recommend doing Organized Rides....generally they support good Charities and Causes...they give you an opportunity to experience new areas to ride and a chance to meet some really nice people. If you approach them as a long fun ride, leave a little extra safety margin around the unknowns and not treat them as a race to show off your macho and daring, then you will have some great experiences for your team.
Good luck.

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Old 09-21-09, 03:03 PM   #15
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We ride offroad and have found a few problems with solo riders not realising that we will be taking different lines to them on corners. Set yourself up for a tight corner only to find someone trying to dart inside you on the corners. As stoker I always try to give warning to other riders to stay clear- but once they have attempted to overtake once- and found out how quickly a Tandem can turn- they don't attempt it twice.

On road rides-the problem still exists. Wheel suckers darting out as you line up for the curves- only to find that they have hit a wall with wind resistance and cannot get past you in time.

We went to one ride and the riders were warned about tandems. They do take different lines on corners- they can be slow uphill- Don't try and stay with them on the flat unless you are fit and stay away from them on the downhills. Made no difference- we still had a couple of very expensive bikes bounce off us without any damage to the Tandem- or us being taken off line by being hit. If a solo hits a 400lbs Tandem- the tandem is not going to come off the worst.
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Old 09-21-09, 03:23 PM   #16
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We rode in a couple of large European cyclosportifs on the tandem this summer. In one of them, we spent the first hour leading a group of about 30 riders, with no-one else really doing any work. Later on, we spent a couple of hours in a peloton of 200+ riders that was averaging about 40 kph (25 mph). It was intense! The previous year, I'd done the same ride and ended up in a similar situation on my single bike (but not going quite as fast). Being on the tandem was a very different experience.

It was a pretty flat course, so the difference in momentum between the tandem and the singles wasn't really a problem. However, there was a lot of movement in the pack, and a lot of things to navigate around when blasting through some of the towns and villages. Fortunately, we had up to three motorbikes escorting our group and clearing/warning the traffic ahead. It required a huge amount of attention and cognitive energy, and I could barely take a hand off of the bars to grab a mouthful of water or energy bar. It required every bit of my skill as a tandem pilot, and my stoker commended me on the job I'd done at the end of it - not for the physical effort, but for the piloting skill.

For a while, we tried to escape the madness by getting onto or near the front of the group during the most hectic section of the course (going through downtown Geneva), but after 10 km or so of that my stoker said that she was going to blow up if we kept riding that hard, and that we had to drop back into the shelter of the pack. The group was actually being lead most of the time by two fit guys riding another tandem. In the middle of the group, we found a third tandem, and so I tried to stick behind them for a while, but their back wheel was just as popular as ours and other people kept taking it instead.

Towards the end of the ride, the group was going harder and harder up every small incline. After we'd been dropped a couple of times and fought hard to get back on, we finally had to let them go. I breathed a sigh of relief at that time because I knew that I could mentally relax then, even though physically I had to keep working as hard.

It was an experience that I'll never forget, and we had a great time. For me, my main impression was of never being so mentally exhausted at the end of a ride as I was at the end of that one. But, I've also never been able to ride so fast - we averaged over 38 kph (24 mph) for the 175 km (110 miles) course, in a time of just over 4 and a half hours!

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Old 09-21-09, 04:35 PM   #17
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Chris W - thanks for that! I'm exhausted just reading it. I can't imagine hurtling through Geneva on a tandem!
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Old 09-21-09, 05:48 PM   #18
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Have done literally hundreds of big rides since 1975.
In Michigan did the Belle Isle Marathon (ride all you want in 24 hours) around an island several years. Usual turnout was around 10,000 folks with the first hour being the most hectic.
Other very large rides include El Tour de Tucson (15 times on our tandem) with anywhere from near-1,000 to 9 thousand participants through the years. In these mass starts, need to be particularly attentive the first 20 miles, as all these folks all 'wannabe first!' By the last 20 miles of the 100+ mile loop folks get tired and inattentive and things can dicey.
Corners in a massed bunch can be a bit tricky on a 2-seater as we need a bit more space to maneuver. We generally ride 'elbows out' to discourage bumping.
Largest tandem-only mass start was at one of MidWest Tandem Rallies with 600 tandems starting off, led by his honor the mayor of Des Moines, IA on his tandem.
Feel much safer mass-starting with tandems-only than with huge mass of single bikes.
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Old 09-21-09, 06:20 PM   #19
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What's this? Tandems, especially on a flat course, are supposed to be fast. All that aerodynamic efficiency and whatnot. Be the ride ever so large, you start out early and at the front and the only half-bikes you'll need contend with are the string of wheel-suckers that collect behind you, before they get ignominiously dropped. If any do manage to keep up, the riders are probably at least Cat 3's, and so no worries about them being squirrely. You blow by the rest stops while they are still setting up, and when you make it back to the Start/End no one rings cow bells and shouts out Woo hoo! Great job! because they can't believe anyone has already finished.
We throughly enjoy spanking the half bikes, hills or not.
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Old 09-21-09, 06:56 PM   #20
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We rode STP with 9,999 of our friends also. My biggest issue was with pacelines passing us on the left - each rider would cut in closer and closer to our front wheel as they came around us; it felt like I was being pushed off of the road. Short 3- or 4-bike pacelines were OK, but some of these were 15 to 20 bikes long. (BTW: How do you handle this situation without risking a crash?) I had no issues with the bike path at all; it was great.
From your description I would have first stuck my elbows out to enforce my space, next would be to start drifting left, slowly but surely. It's a more aggressive posture but effective.

At a minimum, maintain your line. Drifting right will likely not change the amount of space they give you and increase your risk of crash as you get closer to the edge of the road/path.
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Old 09-21-09, 07:12 PM   #21
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We probably average a dozen or so “event rides” per year with participation sizes ranging from 100 to 3,000 bikes. After piloting my single bike in and around more than few mass starts, the first two or three on the tandem were a bit tense. Since then, I’ve learned that it’s best to arrive at the start point early and to position ourselves to start someplace close enough to be within 10-20% of the front. It's often much more sane than the very front.

If it’s a very slow start, I’ll push along with my down foot until I’m sure we can gain enough speed to clip in and pedal safely. We like to warm up at a pretty good pace, so we’re usually in the middle or left side to allow plenty of maneuvering room as we get up to speed. As the pace picks up and the crowd thins, I’ll move more to the right to allow extra room to pass us on the left and still leave a lane to prevent us from getting boxed in behind slower riders.

A number of charity rides have shorter routes for less experienced riders, but bring them back for the last few miles on the same roads as the riders who've gone longer & faster. So in the last few miles of your metric or full century you’re passing riders who’ve only done 20 or 30 miles in the same amount of time. I used to call out “on your left” to slower riders, only to see them invariably turn their heads back to the left and drift right into our path. So, I put a small “ice cream bell” on my handlebar and now I give them a little “ting a ling” about 30 feet back. If they’re doing 10 mph and think someone on another commuter bike is going to pass at 12, they’ll usually hold their line and try to push themselves up to 14. Then we safely pass, usually at our normal cruising speed of about 20 or so.
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Old 09-21-09, 07:31 PM   #22
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Our rides with larger groups have been mixed.

Off road group rides on the tandem see all sorts of concerns. Most times though it's someone that couldn't ride the technical section, stops and then gawks while standing and blocking the line you need.

On the road tandem, when crowded by single bikes overtaking in a large group, if they start to cross the tandems front wheel, our bike becomes a bit wider, or drifts left. As others have mentioned, there have been our times also when single bikes just want the pull and refuse to rotate the line. Depending upon the group, there's a definite possibility I'll gradually slow the pace a few mph, this frustrates the drafting riders and let's them decide their fate.

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Old 09-21-09, 07:36 PM   #23
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I think it's somewhat a question of how comfortable you are with your bike handling skills. We've done the "Tuesday Night Worlds" on the Tandem. We routinely do group rides on the tandem. We've done one mass start road race that was open to tandems along with single bikes. All without incident.

Understand the length of the bike, how the bike behaves, ride predictably, work together, and there shouldn't be any more issue than on a single bike.
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Old 09-21-09, 07:56 PM   #24
mkane77g
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Best response yet, know how the bike behaves. You can pick and choose group rides also. The more difficult ones usaully attract more experienced riders.
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Old 09-21-09, 08:19 PM   #25
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We're a very inexperienced tandem team @ 1000 miles and we're not fast enough (translation: older) to every be surrounded by exprienced cyclists. So We're more likely to be surrounded by inexperienced cyclists. Downhills and rollers have been the only problem areas including singles riding side-by-side or taking the whole road going around a curve. Experienced cyclists will look for someone overtaking, inexperienced cyclists not. On the rollers there seems to be a tendency for the singles to "pack up" as they roll out the bottom prior to putting the power down and/or standing; exactly the opposite of what we do on the tandem. Traffic permitting I just go by them of course, but would be easier if they were single file.
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